Monday, February 13, 2012

S-A Columnist Doesn’t Understand Rail, so It’s Not Surprising the Public Is Confused, too; Issue: If Rail Dies, Will East Honolulu, North Shore and Windward Oahu Welcome their New Neighbors? Plus: Mayor Race Poll Merits Only a Few Words

Here’s the first sentence in Star-Advertiser columnist Richard Borreca’s column yesterday under the headline Anti-Rail poll results to take politicos, voters on wild ride (subscription required):

“Honolulu's traffic problems are getting worse, but Honolulu residents remain deeply skeptical of the city's solution."
In other words, Mr. Borreca believes rail’s purpose is to “solve” Honolulu’s traffic problems. But since traffic congestion inevitably will increase as the population increases, there is no “solution” to traffic congestion, is there? Like the vog from Kilauea, it's with us, and there's nothing we can do to "solve" it.

Therefore, it follows that Mr. Borreca’s personal opposition to rail (read his columns for confirmation) synchs nicely with anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, who continues to belittle rail for failing to do the impossible – reduce congestion. Don’t build it if it can’t do that, he argues.

See how it works? If anti-railers like Mr. Slater – and now mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano -- repeat their bizarre argument often enough, even presumably objective newspaper columnists and opinion leaders can and do fall under their spell. (There’s a remarkable juxtaposition of the anti-railer and the columnist in Hawaii News Now's survey story.)

That’s what Messrs. Cayetano and Slater are counting on, and judging from the newspaper’s ill-timed public opinion poll, it’s working. The paper commissioned a polling company to conduct a survey on rail within two weeks of Mr. Cayetano’s official entry into the mayoral race. Broadcast, print and online media prominently carried his anti-rail rhetoric while providing virtually no balance from rail proponents.

Goals, Not Solutions
For media types who care to bone up (for the first time?) on why rail is being built, the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement can be accessed with no difficulty at rail’s website; pull down the menu below Document Library. But here’s a quickie review of the four main goals as described in our January 3, 2011 post:

Goal: Improve corridor mobility. The FEIS says, “Given current and increasing levels of congestion, an alternative method of travel is needed within the study corridor independent of current and projected highway congestion.” Rail is that method.

Goal: Improve corridor travel reliability. Says the FEIS: “This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time. A need exists to provide more reliable transit services.” Rail is that service.

Goal: Improve transportation equity. The FEIS defines this equity as “the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environment, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.” With 21 stations along the route and easy access by foot, bus or car, rail will deliver that equity.

And finally, this Goal: Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center. The City’s General Plan for decades has called for the vast majority of Oahu’s population growth to occur in west Oahu – most of it on the ewa plain – and some of it in Central Oahu. The Plan also stipulates that growth should not occur in East Honolulu, along the Windward Side or on the North Shore.

Rail Keeps the Country Country
Our question to residents living in areas not designated for growth is simply this: Since you don’t want rail to be built – most likely because you think you’ll never use it and don’t want to pay for it – are you prepared to accept more housing development in your own neighborhoods?

We can write today without fear of contradiction that the federal lawsuit plaintiffs who want to kill rail, including mayoral candidate Cayetano and Mr. Slater, have never told Oahu residents this key rationale for building rail – to relieve pressure to build housing throughout the island.

And because this key goal is virtually unknown among the general public, residents of East Honolulu, Windward Oahu and the North Shore who told the Star-Advertiser’s opinion research survey they oppose rail are encouraging growth in their neighborhoods with their opposition.

Ironic, No?
West Oahu residents express frustration about the apparent disinclination of residents elsewhere on the island to support transportation improvements between town and the west side. West-side people reason they helped widen Kalanianaole Highway out to Hawaii Kai and supported construction of the H-3 freeway between town and the Windward Side with their taxes. They’re happy to let North Shore residents enjoy their rural lifestyle.

So they ask, why won’t you support what WE want and need? It’s a good question. People living far from the west end often answer it by citing the cost of building and maintaining rail and the potential for rail’s elevated structure to block view planes.

Those are not insignificant issues, but do they overwhelm the reasons to build the project? Commuters who spend needless hours on the road each day because of ever-increasing congestion don’t think so. They respond directly to that challenge, as the person did who commented on a letter to the editor on Saturday:

“When you spend upwards of 2 hours, not unusual if it’s 3 hours-a-day to travel to school or a job that’s only 25 miles away, finding a way to reduce that time is a real need.”
So, too, is planning and building housing for most of the 100,000-plus new Oahu residents who will live here by 2030. Completing the rail project would locate most of them along the line and on the ewa plain. Not building rail would likely result in major housing developments in Kaimuki, Waialae-Kahala, Aina Haina, Niu and Kuliouou valleys, Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, Kailua, Kaneohe, Laie, Kahuku, Sunset Beach and Haleiwa.

Call it an unintended consequence of opposing Honolulu rail.

The Latest Poll
Today’s Star-Advertiser poll on the Honolulu mayoral race (subscription) merits just a few words. The results are meaningless in February for an election six months from now – with one caveat:

Mr. Cayetano’s lead among the 549 Oahu residents polled in the survey over Mayor Peter Carlisle and former Managing Director Kirk Caldwell – they received 44, 35 and 16 percent respectively – serves as a wake-up call for the two trailing candidates, whose campaigns have yet to begin.

That also means Mr. Cayetano’s perspective on rail has yet to be confronted by his opponents. His demonstrable lack of depth on transportation issues hasn’t had to withstand the glare of TV lights and other publicity generated by his two pro-rail opponents, both of whom have a stronger grasp of the island’s transportation needs than the former governor, who left public life a decade ago.

Above all, the S-A’s candidate poll is not believable for the same reason we criticized it yesterday. The survey was conducted within two weeks of Mr. Cayetano’s entry into the mayoral race, when his views were receiving unusual amounts of media coverage without challenge from his opponents or the media, for that matter.

The survey’s “all about Ben” results made the talk show host positively giddy this morning. He should make merry while he may; the feeling's not destined to last.


Anonymous said...

Doug I so admire your skill as a PR professional. You are really good.

Your argument is, "We will never reduce congestion, it's like Vog, so let's spend $7 billion on a system that will make my bosses feel great about instead!"

The propaganda to make people believe that they are truly in a helpless situation is both sad and dishonest at best. Everyone knows that traffic is light during the summer and there is certainly no traffic at 3am. So to somehow make congestion into some universal constant in the universe demonstrates a stunning lack of knowledge of even the basics of traffic congestion (you get congestion when use exceeds capacity).

But I guess that type of twisted logic is what leads to a blind religious belief in the power of a 19th century technology to somehow address problems faced by a 21st century city.

I commend you on your ability to get and maintain a consulting gig to keep spewing this stuff out. You are a pro and I marvel at your talent.

It's the poor folks who are paying for your bill, and who will pay for a horrific situation in the future (with rail) that's deeply troubling.

The Common Loon said...

Good stuff, Doug. Keep it coming. Does anyone think the re-hashed nonsense about "managed" toll lanes for the privileged is nothing more than a last-ditch facade put forward by anti-railers?

So much for letting the people decide.

Doug Carlson said...

Anonymous, I was really digging your post for the first dozen words or so, and then you lost me. Quote marks usually go around what's actually written or spoken. That's not my quote.

Here's some new information for you: Rail will reduce traffic in the urban core by 18%; traffic is down around 11% when schools are out of session. I.E., rail will have an even greater impact on congestion than summertime -- and rail's benefit will be all year long! Surely you must be impressed by that under-appreciated rail fact.

As for your relegating rail technology to history's scrap heap, you might have a point if trains were still pulled by puffer-belly steam engines. Be honest, Anonymous; you're just repeating anti-rail propaganda. Do you also oppose high-speed rail because it's "antiquated"?

I have you pegged as someone who doesn't want a dime spent by government on a project you may never use -- therefore, you oppose it. Is that it?

Next time, please don't bother with the compliments, since I kinda get the feeling they're somewhere south of sincere. Aloha.

Anonymous said...

1) If the State is unable to adequately maintain the existing infrastructure, is it wise too build new infrastructure that is even more costly to maintain, not to mention build in the first place?

2)Is the rate of expected population growth and urban development sustainable with such an isolated state, that has finite resources, and very dependent on national/international support?

3)What would the impact be on Oahu resident's if we build an overpriced and/or underutilized rail system? (The consequences if things don't pan out as you'd hope.)

4)TOD (Transit Oriented Development) - If the government is willing to exempt developers from land usage regulations, construction standards, and environmental laws within a 1/2 mile of transit stations (Hawaii SB1556); how far will they bend the rules (enable lawlessness) in order to gain favor with developers for building the rail? What's next, casinos, sky scrapers, billboards, taxpayer funded payoffs, and lavish subsidies?

These are questions that should concern both proponents and opponents of the Honolulu Rail Project.

Doug Carlson said...

Replying to Anonymous's four points:

1) Underfunding required maintenance is unsustainable, so if the chickens are coming home to roost, they're coming home to roost, and taxpayers will be asked to step up and fund that which should have been funded previously. Building a traffic-avoiding travel alternative is a sustainability effort. It must be done in the first and last place.

2) Unrestricted population growth is and has been public policy; i.e., there are no restrictions on migration between the states, and immigration from abroad continues. If you don't like the current policy, start a movement to change it, but rail will support the growing population.

3) The "overpriced" and "underutilized" scenarios are not likely -- they're just your opinions -- so your hypotheticals are just that.

4) To my knowledge, no such exemption has been granted, but if it is, it will be done by elected representatives of the population. And please try to hold back on the scare tactics.